What's Junkyard Dog's Real Name And How Did He Get His Nickname?

Since the inception of professional wrestling as a sport, the athletes involved have always had these odd, peculiar, and even what some might call very creative nicknames. These aliases are usually their ring names and how the fans know them. Early wrestlers always had a chosen, eye-catching moniker — Ed "Strangler" Lewis (born Robert Friedrich), Killer Kowalski (real name: Edward Władysław Spulnik, says Pro Wrestling Fandom), Andre the Giant (born André Roussimoff). These names often referenced said person's size or wrestling style, or a persona they committed to portraying once in the ring. And wrestlers have continued the tradition.

It was also true for Junkyard Dog, the 1980s professional wrestling star. At the height of his career, Junkyard Dog was one of the most popular Black wrestlers ever, and like his name says, exhibited some of the characteristics you'd find in a dog guarding a junkyard.

He was known for sporting a dog collar attached to a long metal link chain. And he even growled like a dog. Junkyard Dog had a unique fighting style and signature slam move called "The Thump." Sometimes his trunks also bore the name of his popular move.

Junkyard Dog's real name and nickname origin

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Junkyard Dog came into the world as Sylvester Ritter on December 13, 1952. He made his wrestling debut in 1977, measuring 6 feet and 3 inches, weighing in at about 300 pounds. He wouldn't rise to popularity until he started wrestling with Mid-South wrestling under the promotion of Bill Watts, before moving on to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) — now the WWE — in 1984 (via WWE).

There's at least one version of the story that says it was Watts who gave Ritter his famous ring name (per Ritter's page at Pro Wrestling Fandom), and that name would stick for the entirety of his career. But according to The Morning Call, Ritter had already earned that name some time before his wrestling career, while actually working at a junkyard. "The way that I worked as hard as I did, and the way that I stood my ground for what I believed in, well, my boss said to me, just like the song, 'You are meaner than a junkyard dog,"' said Ritter.

Junkyard Dog died tragically at the age of 45 in 1998 on his way home from his daughter's graduation. In 2004, the WWE inducted him to their Hall of Fame.